Graham Collier Music: Songs For My Father (1970) Fontana – UPDATED, photos


Another excursion into the progressive detachment of British from American jazz in the second half of the 1960s. This one heads further out into the realms of progressive big-band: lauding composition, fragmentation and complexity. If “The Sound Of Surprise” (W. Balliett) no longer surprises,  time to kick the ball in a different direction.

Selection: Song Three (Nine Eight Blues, 7:52)

. . .

Artists

Graham Collier – bass; John Webb – drums; Phillip Lee – guitar; John Taylor – piano;   Alan Skidmore, Tony Roberts – tenor saxophone; Bob Sydor – tenor saxophone, alto saxophone; Alan Wakeman – tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Derek Wadsworth – trombone; Harry Beckett – trumpet, flugelhorn. Engineer: David Voyde, session date/s and location unknown.

Not everyone got their name onto the front cover, but among those that did,  Harry Beckett was elevated to “Featuring”. Beckett’s distinctive trumpet and flugelhorn often popped up in the late ’60s/early ’70s talent-packed ensembles of Mike Westbrook, Mike Gibbs, Chris McGregor and in this case Graham Collier , with the “unaccompanied Harry Beckett solo”  almost a trademark of Collier’s work.

Music

Graham Collier’s inventive progressive British jazz pulled the “big-band” of Ellington and Basie away from swing and pushed it into new chromatic and harmonic territory. Writer/musician Clifford Allen best describes Collier’s work:

“Composer Graham Collier (1937-2011) was one of the principal driving forces behind the evolution of British jazz during the late 1960s and on into the 1970s. Initially also a bassist and bandleader, his Graham Collier Music fostered the talents of many creative musicians. A composer of long-form suites that contain a unique level of openness, his rhythmically incisive and tonally broad music was created “on the bandstand,” even when in the studio. Collier was a composer, first and foremost, but his ideas of composition were collective and fluid, while remaining extremely rigorous”

In the late ’60s, Collier contracted for three records – Deep Dark Blue Centre (Deram, 1967) and Down Another Road (Fontana, 1969) and Songs for My Father (Fontana, 1970) – a contract which lapsed, in his own words,  “when the companies realized they couldn’t sell this stuff”

The album title “Songs for My Father” seems to be a reference to the  classic Blue Note Horace Silver album, with which there seems no obvious connection.  Collier’s track titles are  reduced to the austere Song 1, Song 2, Song 3 ,through to song 7, stripping them of the meaningful description and context. Instead they are subtitled with their musical form and time signature (waltz in four:four). Deliberate departure from the naming-conventions of popular music , but perhaps more in tune with what turned out to be unpopular music.

A US edition of Songs For My Father was  released in 1974 to accompany a book on jazz arranging by Collier, “Compositional Devices, based on Songs For My Father” -Boston: Berklee (1974) Boston’s Berklee College of Music being Collier’s alma mater.

Collier’s  big-band isn’t very big, usually between 8 and 12 instruments, a “small ensemble”, only one trombone, not three. The musicians are recognisably  drawn from the jazz genre, play  jazz instruments, but are used more as brushes applying musical paint on Collier’s compositional canvas, executing the composer’s vision. It is sometimes difficult to tell what is written and what is improvised, an ambiguity Collier revelled in.

Songs For My Father moves  from the modal improvisational canvas of his two previous works, towards more structured composition. Here, Collier constructs a base layer of restless shifting tempos, edgy piano vamps,  contrasting  tonal horn layers using a  wide palette of brass colours from trombone and trumpet through the saxophone family up to soprano, with  freeform solo improvisation breaking out from the ensemble work. It has an unpredictable and satisfying complexity that commands active listening. Surprising even.

Music journalists like Clifford Allen have usefully documented the artist’s thinking by direct interview (just before Collier’s departure in 2011) One missing perspective is that of the musicians themselves, like Harry Beckett,  how they experienced being on Collier’s bandstand. That would be interesting, but the opportunity has no doubt passed.

Of Collier’s later works, typically, a long-form Collier piece consist of a series of movements, which together form a  narrative, usually a musical drama orchestrating the eternal struggle between order and chaos. Sounds like my every day.

The field of post-1960s structured improvisation jazz is small: Mingus probably initially, then Gil Evans, George Russell, and Graham Collier (arguably along with fellow Brits Mike Westbrook and Neil Ardley, if that’s not too Anglo-centric a list.) The music can be more difficult to access than straight bebop and its immediate successors, but rewarding to those who make the effort, you must dig deep, as precious things are often found well below the surface.

Vinyl: Fontana 639-006 stereo,

Black & silver Fontana label, 1970 first release, Phillips pressing.

Collector’s Corner

Collecting late ’60s vintage British jazz is a thankless task.  No-one seems to know anything about it, actual vintage vinyl copies  are  found exclusively in Britain and…you guessed it, Japan. It found no commercial success at the time, so remain painfully rare and dealers ensure, painfully expensive.

The musician’s are mostly now deceased, and their record companies  and music publishers at a loss to exploit what they have, and then only thinking about streaming and download. I applaud the DJ/Jazz entrepreneurs like Gilles Petersen, Gerald Short and Fredrik Lavik for delivering historically rare music to audiophile standard on vinyl, and making it less rare. and more affordable.

This original was quite expensive but you either have it or you don’t, that’s how this collecting thing works. Doesn’t look like any “DJ re- edition” of Collier’s work has been produced, other than a CD from Spain and a BGO compilation, so I guess I have to go it alone.

LJC

UPDATE January 11, 2019

Harry The Jazz Paparazzi turns up gold  again. Private photos previously unseen of Graham Collier and Harry Beckett at Jazz Festivals in the South of France and Switzerland (Antibes, 1969, Montreux 1971) and live at London’s 100 Club, Oxford Street (1971).

Graham Collier Sextet, Antibes, 1969

Graham Collier, Montreux, 1971

Harry Beckett and Max Roach, Montreux, 1971

Harry Beckett and Graham Collier, 100 Club, London 1971

All our thanks to Harry, right man in the right place at the right time, and the right year!. (photos edited and retouchedby LJC)  ©Harry M

 

 

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10 thoughts on “Graham Collier Music: Songs For My Father (1970) Fontana – UPDATED, photos

  1. Hello again, Ach, just sent you a blank email. Hit the return button before I scrolled to the body of the letter field. Just wanted to include, which I didn’t in my previous email, Harry Beckett also has two mid 1960s albums (Deram?) reissued on Vocalion. I have not been to that website recently, so I don’t know which of the modern jazz releases on that label are still in print. Once again, Cheers and warm regards, Ed from New York ed361@yahoo.com

    • That would be ‘Warm Smiles’ coupled with ‘Themes For Fega’, originally on RCA LPs and reissued on CD by Vocalion. Those came out in the early 1970s. Slightly earlier was the excellent ‘Flare Up’, originally on a Philips LP and reissued on CD by Jazzprint.

      ‘Themes For Fega’ was originally put out under the name of Harry Beckett’s ‘S & R Powerhouse Sections’ – whatever that was/meant.

  2. Dear webmaster, Superb and informative post, about a musician I have not heard of, speaking here from the other side of the pond (U.S.A.). Your post included quite a bit of explanation and details, both about the album and the musicans from this session. I’ll have to look around and see if this is available on CD.

    I was familiar with the names Alan Skidmore, and Harry Beckett, both of whom played on John Surman’s large ensemble “Conflagration” album. I had that LP and also “Fortune Smiles”, but as I’ve mentioned before, economic priorities (car repair and rent payments) reared their head, like the wolf at the door, and I had to sell my collection.

    I’m looking for the CD box, John Surman “The Complete Dawn Sessions.”

    I also picked up, on CD, at least three Deram releases, two John Surmans and the Henry Lowther album “Childsong,” all reissued by Vocalion out of Watford. Also picked up a couple of others, an anthology of British Jazz, and a straight ahead session with Alan Skidmore (4tet or 5tet) sounding very similar in style to various early and mid sixties Blue Note albums.

    Alan Skidmore is still recording – I found at least one of this LP’s on a label website, when I was looking for releases by Michael Gibbs.

    To digress, for a moment, I hope you include a blog entry on Michael Gibbs’ large ensemble recordings, the two for Deram, and his “The Only Chrome Waterfall Orchestra” (title is correct?), on Bronze (with an Island “ILPS” catalog number). His writing is very good as well. He also did a double CD live at Ronnie Scotts, some experimental, open ended tracks, and a semi-rocker “Grow Your Own” (heh,heh) with Chris Spedding on guitar. Michael Gibbs has released albums more recently, a couple of which I found on a label website several (or more) years ago (the Discogs site may help with re-finding them). And that website is also where I found the more recent albums by Alan Skidmore. There are other British jazz albums I’ve come across while searching on-line, artists’ names, now very late at night here, that I can’t remember. But please keep up this series of posts about British jazz – a great exploratory scene in itself, with original writing and improvisations by excellent musicians. Thank you!! Regards, “Ed from New York” Edward Fenning ed361yahoo.com

  3. Another great UK jazz group. I saw Graham and his various groups quite often during the 1960s and early seventies in London and at the Antibes (Juan les Pins) Jazz Festival in 1969 and at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1971. Here are a few photos you may be able to use. The musicians playing in the first photo at Antibes were Stanley Cowell on piano, Nick Evans on trombone, Graham Collier, John Marshall on drums, Harry Beckett on trumpet & Stan Sulzmann on tenor. By the way Duncan Heining has recently written a biography of Graham –‘ Mosaics The Music of Graham Collier’ – and also ‘ Trad Dads, Dirty Boppers and Free Fusioneers: British Jazz, 1960-1975’ which I think you would find interesting.

    Best regards

    Harry

  4. Are you aware of this title?
    Tony Adam: Change is … – A Survey of British Modern Jazz 1946-73
    ISBN 9781980349365
    It is available from the Amazon beast as a print-on-demand. It is a bit of a design disaster but it is dead cheap and then this is about the wealth of information and not a coffe table item. As he says in the foreword it “only considers music: a) that I like … and b) that I’ve acutally heard”. So, a very personal survey but it covers a lot of the stuff you seem to like. Well worth a look if you are interested in that period of British Jazz.

    • Thad and Mel? Composition in the school of Ellington, Strayhorn and Gershwin, high-energy big band tradition, mainstream soloists like Pepper Adams and Bob Brookmeyer, I don’t hear anything really new or adventurous in that Orchestra, Not that I think it is bad, but writers like George Russell and Graham Collier were setting sail for a new land, to coin a phrase. May be it’s time to dig out my Jones Lewis albums for another listen.

      • A little bit more adventurous is the Toshiko Akiyoshi – Lew Tabackin Big band, who made around a dozen LPs through the 70s, with most of the material written by Toshiko

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